Dale Zanine-US PRESSWIRE

A Strange Night in Atlanta

Roy is sad after blowing a six-run lead. Dale Zanine-US PRESSWIRE

Wednesday night’s 15-13 loss to the Braves in Atlanta cannot be explained.

Well, sure it can, but it would take about 5000 words to do so.

So much happened. The offense had its best game of the season, banging out 17 hits and making Tommy Hanson throw pitch after pitch after pitch in the first three innings. Watching the Phils foul balls off and relentlessly work the pitcher was a thing of beauty.

And, it led to an early 6-0 lead.

But Roy Halladay, the man who has seen his velocity drop a bit this year, raising some alarm bells, gave it all back and then some, leaving his team behind 8-6 in the 6th inning.

Yet the Phils rallied, taking a 12-8 lead into the 8th inning. All seemed right with the world.

Then, Game 4 of the 1993 World Series replayed itself 19 years later.

The Braves scored five times in the 8th to go ahead 13-12. Yet the Phils answered back, tying the game in the 9th at 13.

That is until the inevetable happened. Brian Sanches (and no, you’re not crazy if you had no idea he was even on this team), pitching in his third inning of relief, with a healthy Jonathan Papelbon apparenlty playing Angry Birds on his cell phone or something in the bullpen, gave up a two-run bomb to Chipper Jones in the bottom of the 11th.

It was an instant classic. Unfortunately, this classic is one Phils fans will never want to see again.

It was not a banner night for Charlie Manuel, either. Many blogs will spend a few thousand words to dissect his bullpen choices over the next 24-36 hours, and that’s fine. Their point, whittled down, is this…

…you should never, ever, ever, EVER hold out your $50 million closer from a baseball game for a save situation on the road that may never come.

With the game on the line in the 8th inning, and Jose Contreras and (ugh) Michael Schwimmer coughing up the lead, Manuel should have recognized that the save situation was right then and there. The game was on the line in the 8th inning. At that point, the 9th inning was meaningless. Even if Cholly didn’t want to use Papelbon for a five-out save, he could have used him to get those two outs in the 8th and sent the Phillies into the 9th with a lead, not a deficit.

You worry about your 9th inning guy after you’ve protected your lead, not before.

And after that, why pitch Brian Sanches, a career AAA pitcher, for three innings when he’s completely exhausted while Papelbon rusts in the bullpen?

For some reason, most managers just will not bring in their “closer” into a non-save situation, a tie game on the road, under any circumstances. Cholly is one of those managers. And he showed once again last night why that is a stupid strategy.

The one bright spot, however, is the continued excellence of the Phils little Panamanian catcher.

I should mention that Carlos Ruiz is my wife’s baseball boyfriend. Normally, something like this would make me a tad jealous. I’d resent that player and everything he stands for. But when it comes to Chooch, I can’t help it. I’m cool with it.

At what point did Carlos Ruiz become the most important player on the Philadelphia Phillies?

Somewhere along the line, Ruiz went from a part-time, light-hitting catcher to a master signal caller, a guy calling games for the greatest pitchers in Major League Baseball, an on-base machine, and one of the most important bats on the team.

His career numbers tell the story.

Year Age G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+
2006 27 27 78 69 5 18 1 1 3 10 0 0 5 8 .261 .316 .435 .751 87
2007 28 115 429 374 42 97 29 2 6 54 6 1 42 49 .259 .340 .396 .735 87
2008 29 117 373 320 47 70 14 0 4 31 1 2 44 38 .219 .320 .300 .620 63
2009 30 107 379 322 32 82 26 1 9 43 3 2 47 39 .255 .355 .425 .780 105
2010 31 121 433 371 43 112 28 1 8 53 0 1 55 54 .302 .400 .447 .847 127
2011 32 132 472 410 49 116 23 0 6 40 1 0 48 48 .283 .371 .383 .754 106
2012 33 21 74 68 8 21 4 0 3 10 0 0 4 9 .309 .338 .500 .838 126
7 Yrs 640 2238 1934 226 516 125 5 39 241 11 6 245 245 .267 .356 .397 .753 99
162 Game Avg. 162 566 490 57 131 32 1 10 61 3 2 62 62 .267 .356 .397 .753 99
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/2/2012.

From 2006 to 2008, Ruiz hit .242/.329/.359 for an OPS of .688. He hit only .219 in the championship season of ’08 and slugged only .300.

An offensive force he was not.

But since 2009, the offensive improvement in Ruiz is striking. From 2009-2011, Ruiz hit .281/.376/.417 for an OPS of .793. His best year was 2010, where he finished the season with a batting average of .302 and an OBP of .400.

And now, with Chase Utley and Ryan Howard still out with injuries, and many of the regulars still struggling, Ruiz has taken his offensive game to a completely different level.

After Wednesday’s heartbreaker in Atlanta, Ruiz is officially the most dangerous bat in the Phils lineup. Three hits in five at bats. Two runs scored. SEVEN RBIs. A batting average of .329. A slugging percentage of .575 and an OPS of .938. He now has four home runs and 17 RBIs on the season.

Ruiz has always been the best on-base guy among the Phillies’ everyday eight. His eye at the plate and patience is the best on the team, hands-down. But the improvement in his slugging, his power, to go along with his penchant for clutch, game-winning hits, are turning Carlos into a borderline star player.

Will this continue for the rest of the season? It’s unlikely. Even though Carlos had a tremendous spring training and has improved greatly over the years at the plate, his current performance is probably not sustainable.

But Ruiz is proof that just because Keith Law doesn’t think you’re a top 10 prospect, or Baseball Prospectus doesn’t drool all over you, that you can’t become a productive, and sometimes even a star player.

The development of Carlos Ruiz has been both startling and amazing to watch. It is why he is one of the most beloved athletes in Philadelphia.

And if he’s not an All-Star this year, there’s something wrong with people.

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